The old saying that blood is thicker than water definitely holds true for Martie Maguire and Emily Robison. Best known as the founders of the Dixie Chicks, the sisters are celebrating the release of their second album as the Court Yard Hounds, Amelita, which comes out July 16. The sisters' bond has never been stronger, their harmonies never more perfect.
“She's probably the one person I feel the most connected to and close to in my life more than anybody else — just by sheer number of days spent together,” Maguire says of Robison. “We work well together. We’re like yin and yang.”
Speaking with Maguire, it’s clear she and Robison are one another’s biggest supporters. The strength of their personal relationship translates into their critically acclaimed music.
“I feel like we are kind of format-less,” says Martie Maguire. “It kinda sounds country, it kinda sounds adult contemporary, it kinda sounds adult alternative.”
“We’ve been in the same band since she was 10 and I was 12, and we have so many memories together — it’s like being married to each other,” Maguire jokes. “She’s the one person I would trust to tell me the truth — or if I look fat in something. We just have a really open, honest relationship.”
The tight duo debuted as Court Yard Hounds at Antone’s during SXSW in 2010. Maguire says a lot has changed since that nerve-wracking first night.
“I just think we have grown in confidence,” Maguire says. “There were so many questions and concerns playing on our minds [that night]. We knew comparisons were gonna be made [to the Dixie Chicks]. We knew that people were gonna be hearing Emily’s voice solo for the first time. We didn’t know what our sound was necessarily. There were so many reasons why we were nervous to be coming out with another band. We had so much success with the Chicks.”
Maguire says despite often being labeled as a side project, she and Robison knew from the beginning that Court Yard Hounds would have a life of its own. Two albums later, the nerves have faded, and the band's identity has solidified.
Court Yard Hounds was born out of Maguire and Robison’s desire to get back to making music after a long Chicks hiatus. The material on the first album (Court Yard Hounds, 2010) was largely reflective of Robison’s divorce from Texas singer Charlie Robison. Maguire says the band’s sophomore effort, Amelita, has a bit of a different tone.
“I don’t know that we were consciously trying to make it more upbeat or positive, but that seems to be what people are saying,” she says. “It seems like we were in a great place writing this and were feeling like we wanted to write more songs about people other than ourselves, and more hopeful songs.”
Maguire and Robison wrote or co-wrote the majority of the songs on the record (often collaborating with Robison’s husband, guitarist Martin Strayer), including the title track “Amelita,” inspired by a visit to Reynosa, Mexico.
“We were actually shooting the video [for “Long Time Gone”] across from basically what was boys town, and we were looking right into what was a brothel,” Maguire says. “And women were standing out in the doorways, and we were so naïve, and we were going, ‘Why do all these women have their doors open?’” Although the song’s tempo is upbeat, it explores the very serious subject of underage prostitution.
Amelita was recorded in Austin (Maguire lives in Austin; Robison in San Antonio) with many Austin musicians contributing. The duo enlisted producer Jim Scott, who worked on the debut album. Maguire says the result is a cohesive sound unique to the band — and somewhat difficult to categorize.
“I feel like we are kind of format-less,” Maguire says. “It kinda sounds country, it kinda sounds adult contemporary, it kinda sounds adult alternative. I don’t know that we know where we fit for radio. So that’s hard, because as much as you as an artist try not to care about things like that, you have to if you want to reach new fans and if you want to play live, which I think is our ultimate goal.”
Fans can see Court Yard Hounds on some big stages over the next few months. The duo makes a Lollapalooza debut in Chicago next month and a return to the Austin City Limits Music Festival in October. The sisters are also playing a few dates this summer with fellow Dixie Chick, Natalie Maines.
Though Maines has publicly admitted a reluctance to delve back into country music, Maguire says she’d love to make some new music as the Dixie Chicks. “I just don’t know how long we can keep playing the old material,” she says. “I don’t know when, but I do feel like it would be nice for our fans, who have been so loyal, to maybe give them something new.”
In May, Maguire, Robison and Maines reunited at a KLRU benefit in Austin that honored Maines’ dad, Lloyd. That night, for the first time, Dixie Chicks, Court Yard Hounds and Natalie Maines (as a solo artist) shared the same stage. Maguire described the evening as “perfect.”
“It was just so laid-back, and everyone was there for the same reason,” she says. “I think that kind of squelched any rumors that we don’t want to play music together anymore.”